At the turn of the twentieth century, automobiles were coming off production lines, and Americans were on the move. To accommodate travelers, Burlington needed a large, up-to-date hotel. After the American House burned down, Max L. Powell, a lawyer-entrepreneur and state senator, hired New York architect George M. Bartlett to design a grand new edifice. Powell laid out $350,000, and construction began in 1910 and was completed a year later.
The building facade is in the Colonial Revival style, which was popular in the 1890s. Its red brick facade is symmetrically organized into three vertical bays, with paired windows to right and left, and triple windows in the central bay or pavilion. The sills and lintels and neoclassical trim are mostly marble. It has seven stories, or nine if you count the basement on St. Paul Street and the rooftop. Bartlett added a few old-fashioned touches: the roof is edged in a denticulated (teeth-like) cornice of pressed metal and a brick parapet. The first story is banded with a marble stringcourse. Quoins edge the corners. Bartlett polished it off with wrought-iron balconies on the second and seventh stories; the second- floor balcony is served by French doors with a segmented-arch marble cornice.
In the dining room, they sat down at long tables decorated with roses. An elegant dinner was served, with live music. To emphasize the structure’s verticality, he used ground-to-roof continuous pilasters and slit windows on either side of the central pavilion. As architecture historian William Thrane observes, “This gave the hotel an imposing and well-proportioned appearance…comparable to the then-emerging Chicago style.” While no skyscraper, it was the tallest building in Burlington.
The Hotel Vermont’s formal opening took place on the evening of June 22, 1911, with a banquet sponsored by the Merchants’ Protective Association. At nine p.m., the three hundred invited guests passed through the dramatic entrance, with its Doric columns of granite and its bases and capitals of marble. They passed through the spacious lobby, over a marble floor, furnished with roomy leather chairs and couches. The walls were adorned with sconces, and a chandelier hung from a vibrantly painted ceiling.
The mayor served as toastmaster. Speakers celebrated “the state’s finest hostelry” and praised Max Powell for having “energy and push enough to carry the project through.” Governor John A. Mead called it a “splendid hotel,” marking a new era in the state’s history.
Once it was open to the public, the Hotel Vermont welcomed tourists and business people. In its first five months of operation, it attracted 1,300 cars and 19,000 guests—a record for a new hotel in a place the size of Burlington. The next year it drew 1,750 cars.
After checking in, guests made their way to one of the hotel’s 200 rooms, seventy-five of which had “spacious and airy” baths. For meals, they could descend to the 400-seat dining room on the first floor (where the lawyers’ offices are today).
The hotel’s chief attraction was the Roof Garden, a glass-enclosed solarium in the center of the roof. There guests could lounge on swing seats and easy chairs amid lush plants; a restaurant offered grill and à la carte service. Outside the solarium, they could stroll along the fourteen-foot tiled walkway that circled it, and gaze out at Lake Champlain and the mountains. A 1913 brochure noted: “The sunsets from this point are beyond description and the roof garden affords the guests a quiet and restful retreat.”
A black-and-white silent film, A Vermont Romance, made in 1916, shows people going in and out of the Hotel Vermont, and a glimpse of the dining room and roof garden
It wasn’t just for out-of-town visitors–Burlingtonians too made use of the Roof Garden. University students held fraternity dances there, and local clubs rented it for dinner parties. It hosted receptions for weddings and visiting celebrities as well as high school dances, proms, and class reunions.
Conventions and banquets were also held in a smaller dining room on the second floor, known as the parlor (no longer in existence). The Vermont Society of Engineers, founded in 1915, held its annual convention there.
The Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce held its meeting there in the summer of 1924. Its brochure (see slideshow below) touted the Hotel Vermont as having “all the modern conveniences” such as long-distance telephone service in every single room.
Hotel guests could, by special arrangement, use local golf courses and tennis courts, and the Lake Champlain Yacht Club extended its “courtesies.” Or they could take a lake excursion: “The large steamers of the Transportation Line stop at Burlington twice daily, providing rides up and down the lake, and excursions to Fort Ticonderoga, Fort Frederick, Ausable Chasm, the Islands, the Great Back Bay, and, via Westport and a smaller steamer, a delightful run up Otter Creek to Vergennes, Vermont’s oldest city.”
A few miles to the east they could make day trips to Mount Mansfield, Smuggler’s Notch, Camel’s Hump, and Bolton Mountain, or hike the new Long Trail. The hotel was open in winter too. In wintertime, read one brochure, Burlington is transformed “into a vast playground for invigorating winters sports—hockey and ice-boating on the lake, snowshoe tramps, tobogganing, coasting on large traverses down torch-lighted Maple Street, sleighing in barges and smelt fishing through the ice. Carnival Week is the climax of winter sports each year.”